A Day in The Life of an Ancient Athenian jenn neff A day in the life of an ancient Athenian Welcome to Athens, the marvel of Greece! The city which is the fountainhead of beauty, wisdom and knowledge. Even as your ship approaches the Athenian harbor Piraeus, you can see the marble monuments of the Acropolis and the shining golden edge of the spear, which belongs to the gigantic statue of the goddess Pallas Athene. This is one of the greatest works of the sculptor Phidias, and symbolizes both the power and justice of the “violet city” as it was called by his contemporaries. Athenian women had virtually no political rights of any kind and were controlled by men at nearly every stage of their lives. The most important duties for a city dwelling woman were to bear children preferably male and to run the household. Duties of a rural woman included some of the agricultural work: the harvesting of olives and fruit was their responsibility.
Since men spent most of their time away from their houses, women dominated Athenian home life. The wife was in charge of raising the children, spinning, weaving and sewing the familys clothes. She supervised the daily running of the household. In a totally slave based economy, plentiful numbers of female slaves were available to cook, clean, and carry water from the fountain. Only in the poorest homes was the wife expected to carry out all these duties by herself. A male slaves responsibilities were for the most part limited to being doorkeeper and tutor to the male children.
Athenian women had very limited freedom outside the home. They could attend weddings, funerals, some religious festivals, and could visit female neighbors for brief periods of time. In their home, Athenian women were in charge! Their job was to run the house and to bear children. Most Athenian women did not do housework themselves. Most Athenian households had slaves. Female slaves cooked, cleaned, and worked in the fields. Male slaves watched the door, to make sure no one came in when the man of the house was away, except for female neighbors, and acted as tutors to the young male children.
Wives and daughters were not allowed to watch the Olympic Games as the participants in the games did not wear clothes. Chariot racing was the only game women could win, and only then if they owned the horse. If that horse won, they received the prize. . Women spent much of their time in the courtyard of the house, the one place where they could regularly enjoy fresh air. Athenian cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set up there.
In sunny weather, women sat in the roofed over areas of the courtyard, for the ideal in female beauty was a pale complexion. Womens clothes underwent relatively few changes in style. Greek clothing was very simple. Men and women wore linen in the summer and wool in the winter. The ancient Greeks could buy cloth and clothes in the agora, the marketplace, but that was expensive.
Most families made their own clothes, which were simple tunics and warm cloaks, made of linen or wool, dyed a bright color, or bleached white. Clothes were made by the mother, her daughters, and female slaves. They were often decorated to represent the city-state in which they lived. The two most commonly worn garments were the chiton or tunic and the himation or cloak. The chiton came in two styles. Its earlier Doric version, preferred by Athenian women until the end of the 6th century BC, was called the peplos and was made of wool. Cut into a simple rectangle measuring half again the height of the person wearing it, it was folded over, wrapped around the body, and pinned at the shoulders and side.
It was sleeveless, with large arm openings. Expensive versions were decorated with elaborate woven figures or designs. The Ionian chiton was made of linen that fell into more elaborate vertical folds than its heavier wool counterpart. The sides were sewn up to create a long cylinder, which was then caught, by a girdle or cord at the waist. Short sleeves were added to the sides.
Athenian houses, in the 6th and 5th century B.C., were made up of two or three rooms, built around an open air courtyard, built of stone, wood, or clay bricks. Larger homes might also have a kitchen, a room for bathing, a men’s dining room, and perhaps a woman’s sitting area. Much of ancient Athenian family life centered around the courtyard. The ancient Athenians loved stories and fables. One favorite family activity was to gather in the courtyard to hear these stories, told by the mother or father. In their courtyard, Greek women might relax, chat, and sew. Most meals were enjoyed in the courtyard.
Greek cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set up there. Along the coastline, the soil was not very fertile, but the ancient Greeks used systems of irrigation and crop rotation to help solve that problem. They grew olives, grapes, and figs. They kept goats, for milk and cheese. In the plains, where the soil was richer, they also grew wheat to make bread.
Fish, seafood, and homemade wine were very popular food items. In some of the larger Greek city-states, meat could be purchased in cook shops. Meat was rarely eaten, and was used mostly for religious sacrifices. In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, to prepare citizens for both peace and war. Girls were not educated at school, but many learned to read and write at home, in the comfort of their courtyard. Until age 6 or 7, boys were taught at home by their mother or by a male slave.
From age 6 to 14, they went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers. In primary school, they had to learn two important things – the words of Homer, a famous Greek epic poet, and how to play the lyre, a musical instrument. Their teacher, who was always a man, could choose what additional subjects he wanted to teach.
He might choose to teach drama, public speaking, government, art, reading, writing, math, and another favorite ancient Greek instrument – the flute. Following that, boys attended a higher school for four more years. When they turned 18, they entered military school for two additional years. At age 20, they graduated. Athens! Probably no other place has seen such a constellation of geniuses in so many fields of human endeavor.
It was the Greeks who invented politics, science, philosophy, theater, and sports as distinct and meaningful human pursuits. And in Athens, all of these, together with poetry, art, and music reached their creative peaks. The cradle of democracy, Athens remains in many respects the model of fair government.